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February 01, 2018
Driving Dynamics
2002 Mazda 1203 MPV 3516 3476
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Expert Reviews

John Rettie
powered by New Car Test Drive
Mazda says its MPV is the minivan with the soul of a sports car. Its commercials show the MPV turning into a Miata and back into an MPV as it winds around curvy mountain roads.

There is something to that. Lighter and more compact, the MPV is more agile, lighter on its feet, than most vans. 2002 brings a new 3.0-liter V6 that delivers substantially more power than last year's engine. Just as important, it's paired with a responsive five-speed automatic transmission. The suspension has been revised suspension with big, sporty 17-inch alloy wheels.

As a result, the 2002 Mazda MPV is smooth, quiet and powerful. Its compact dimensions make it much easier to park than, say, a Honda Odyssey.

It's a very pleasant vehicle to live with. The MPV features a beautifully designed interior with high-quality materials, excellent ergonomics, and great seats. Power sliding doors on both sides with windows that go up and down are convenient and nice for back-seat riders. Flexible seating and cargo configurations make it easy to handle a variety of tasks on a busy day. The third row disappears into the floor and the middle seats are a marvel of interior design.

Model Lineup
Two trim levels are available: LX ($22,250) and ES ($27,192).

All MPVs are powered by a new 3.0-liter 24-valve V6 engine that produces 200 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque.

Standard equipment on the LX includes antilock brakes, air conditioning, power windows and locks with remote entry, Side-by-Slide and Tumble-Under seating, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, a tilt steering wheel with audio controls, and an audio system with a CD player.

ES adds leather-trimmed seats, power sliding rear doors, rear air conditioning, front side airbags, nine-speaker audio with CD player, chrome interior accents, traction control, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Front side air bags come standard on ES.

Side airbags are available for the LX as part of an optional Security Package ($995) that also includes anti-theft alarm with immobilizer, traction control, fog lamps. An LX Luxury Package ($1395) includes 16-inch alloy wheels, eight-way power driver's seat, a seat-side table between the front bucket seats.

A Four Seasons package ($425) includes rear heater, heavy-duty battery, larger windshield-washer tank, transmission cooler, larger radiator, and heated door mirrors. Stand-alone options include a power glass moonroof ($700) and an in-dash six-disc CD changer ($450). A rear-seat entertainment system is also available.

Most Americans believe bigger is better when it comes to minivans. Europeans prefer a smaller vehicle for negotiating narrow streets and parking in tight places. The Mazda MPV is designed for this latter group.

Measuring just 187 inches long, the Mazda MPV is among the smallest of the mainstream minivans sold in the U.S. The Toyota Sienna is among the shortest minivans and it's more than six inches longer than the MPV; the Honda Odyssey is among the largest minivans and it's about 14 inches longer than the MPV.

The MPV is sleek and aerodynamic for a minivan. It boasts a coefficient of drag of just 0.34; that means it's not quite as boxy as you might expect a minivan to be. The low drag coefficient contributes to the MPV's very low levels of wind noise as well as its fuel efficiency, which is improved for 2002. The appearance of the MPV is enhanced by its big wheels: 16-inch alloys on LX, 17-inch wheels on ES. The outside mirrors are on the small side; bigger mirrors would be better.

MPV offers a higher level of quality over the Kia Sedona. You need only yank on the door handles of the MPV and the Sedona to see an example of this. The MPV sports high-quality body-color door handles that are easy to grab and feel good and substantial in your hand; they are among the best door handles on any vehicle. That does not describe the Sedona's door handles, however.

Yank on the handles on the sliding doors and the MPV opens up nicely. The doors are easy to operate manually. The power sliding doors on the ES model make like far more convenient. They can be opened or closed by pressing buttons on the driver's left, in front of each rear passenger, or by yanking on the inside or outside door handles. For safety, a defeat switch allows the driver to lock everyone inside. A beep lets you know a door is being opened or closed and the doors will stop closing if they sense any obstructions, such as a foot or hand.

The Mazda MPV boasts a brilliantly designed interior. The quality of the materials is first class. Controls are ergonomically excellent. Rear seating is superbly designed, particularly in light of the MPV's compact dimensions. The MPV can haul six people, yet can be quickly reconfigured to provide a large, flat cargo floor.

The leather in the ES is first class, as nice as what's found in some of the nicest luxury cars. The interior itself is very nicely finished with high-quality materials on the dash, center console, everywhere you look. The ES features attractive trim on the dash that looks like polished carbon fiber, giving the interior some sports appeal. The front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive. Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent.

The dashboard has a pleasantly smooth finish that is more reminiscent of a car, flowing organically across the width of the vehicle in a single arc. The instrument pod is nicely situated, with a large speedometer set directly in front of the steering wheel and a smaller tachometer to the right. They are attractive gauges and Mazda's attention to detail is seen everywhere; for example, the shift indicator uses outline lettering for Park and Neutral, which makes Reverse and Drive stand out better. Window switches and other switchgear are textured and feel good to the touch, reminding us of Volkswagen's switchgear, which is among the best in the industry.

Radio and climate controls are placed high up in the center, leaving plenty of space for a couple of storage bins underneath. Once shifted into Drive, the shift lever obscures some of the buttons for the radio. Fortunately, the volume and tuning buttons are huge and big, clearly marked buttons for station selects and other features make the MPV's radio among the most ergonomically correct of any radio in any vehicle. Big storage bins and plenty of cupholders ease long hours sitting in this minivan. An auxiliary 12-volt outlet in the rear side panel provides power for electric accessories.

Particularly nice is the little foldaway tray between the front seats. We prefer having it deployed because it provides a nice platform for items. A small covered compartment on the leading edge of it is lined with felt, perfect for toll change, a wedding ring, and other small items; like other aspects of the interior, the lid on this little compartment is of high quality.

Seating can be configured for two, three, four or as many as six passengers. Technically, the MPV is rated for seven, but that's assuming the three people in the third row are very small and don't mind being crowded. The MPV is a good size if you typically have four or fewer passengers; if five or six regularly ride with you, then one of the bigger minivans would likely be more suitable.

The second row bucket seats are as nice as the front seats. Fore and aft adjustments provide their occupants with additional legroom or can be moved forward to give third-row passengers more legroom. They also recline. It's not a bad place to ride at all. The right-side middle seat features Mazda's innovative Side-by-Slide setup, allowing it to be moved to the left, up against the left bucket; flip the armrests up and you have a small bench seat for one or two people. This provides room for third-row passengers to get in and out. What's great about it is that it's so easy to use, that its passenger can quickly move it to the left to let someone in or out, then move it back outboard to provide more breathing room. The second-row seats can be removed individually, and each weighs 37 pounds. This results in a perfectly flat cargo floor.

The rearmost bench seat can be folded down into a well in the floor (Mazda calls it Tumble-Under), providing a perfectly flat cargo floor. With the seat down and the second row in place, the MPV has 53 cubic feet for cargo. Remove the second-row as well as you have 127 cubic feet for your stuff. This Tumble-Under feature (also found on the Honda Odyssey) is a very useful, and much easier than having to remove and store the rear seats.

When the third-row seat in its regular position, a well underneath it serves as a useful storage bin for stuff that you don't want sliding around on the floor. The seat also can tip back, so that it can serve as rear-facing picnic seat at a tailgate party. Available rear heating and air conditioning with nicely designed controls makes the back of the MPV a more comfortable place for people or pets. Hooks for grocery bags, purses and other gear are provided on the seat backs and in the cargo area.

Big power windows on the sliding side doors go down two-thirds of the way, which will greatly add to the pleasure of rear-seat passengers who like wind in their hair. Younger riders may enjoy participating in power window races, but the driver can override this feature by pressing a switch up front.

Driving Impressions
The 2002 Mazda MPV goes zoom, zoom, zoom with a new 3.0-liter V6. This new engine delivers greatly increased power over last year's engine and transforms the 2002 MPV. It's smooth an quiet, but very responsive around town. Hit the on-ramp, nail the gas, and it takes off, quickly accelerating into and ahead of the traffic.

Even though the 2002 MPV boasts a more powerful engine, it also has better gas mileage ratings than the 2001 version. One reason for its responsiveness is the increased torque, that force that propels a car away from a stoplight. Fully 90 percent of this engine's maximum torque is available from 1800 to 5500 rpm; torque peaks at only 3000 revs. To put it another way, this is the same engine that powers Mazda Tribute sport-utility vehicle, and it has been acclaimed as the strongest engine in its class.

Just as important is the new five-speed automatic transmission. It's smooth and responsive, always in the right gear. And with five gears it does a much better job of keeping the V6 revving in the power zone than the four-speed automatic that's found in most minivans. The MPV's five-speed automatic includes a Slope Control feature that holds fourth gear when climbing hills instead of hunting up and down through the gears as do most automatics.

Mazda's MPV drives more like a tall car than a minivan, though it is still a minivan experience. Compared with other minivans, it handles better on winding roads and maneuvers better in tight situations. Its suspension is revised for 2002 to for offer improved handling. Body and suspension mounts have been made more rigid, the rear stabilizer bar is larger, and the front springs have a 3-degree offset axis, all of which improves handling and creates a more direct feeling to the MPV's steering.

The brakes work very well and are easy to modulate for accurate stops. Ventilated discs are used in front with drums in the rear with ABS and electronic brake force distribution as standard equipment. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time for better control in a panic-braking situation, while electronic brake force distribution reduces stopping distances by transferring braking forces to the tires with the best grip.

It's hard to beat a minivan for convenience and interior space, whether moving people or cargo. And it's impossible to beat one for the price. The Mazda MPV is more agile and easier to park than other vans. The 2002 MPV offers good handing, strong power, and a brilliantly designed interior.

The MPV is second-rate to no minivan in interior finishing. The power roll-down windows in the side doors are what an adult rear-seat passenger expects. The tumbledown rear seat is really convenient, both for increasing cargo space and as a rear-facing bench for a tailgate party.

Compared with other minivans, Mazda's MPV handles better on the road, and maneuvers better in tight confines. It offers a unique alternative for buyers who like the versatility of a minivan but who do not need the ultimate passenger or cargo capacity of the larger minivans. If it's big enough for you, then the MPV is a great choice.

Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.

Model as tested
ES ($27,192)
Basic Warranty
3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
4-Seasons Package ($425) includes rear heater, large windshield washer tank, large radiator, automatic transmission oil cooler, heavy-duty battery; roof rack ($200); rear bumper step plate ($50); fog lights ($250); floor mats ($50)
Model Line Overview
Model lineup
LX ($22,250); ES ($27,192)
Safety equipment (standard)
anti-lock brakes (ABS), dual front airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
5-speed automatic
Specifications as Tested
(ES) leather-trimmed upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, second-row Side By Slide seat, third-row Tumble Under seat, air conditioning with dust and pollen filter, rear air conditioning, heated power mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, 8-way power driver's seat, armrests for driver and passenger, rear privacy glass, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, power dual sliding doors with power windows
Engine & Transmission
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
200 @ 6250
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum with ABS, EBD
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
twist beam
Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear
Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight
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2002 Mazda MPV
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